Morning dew still lingered on grass when the pixie arrived. It zoomed into the vision of a fairy tending a squirrel's broken paw, bouncing back and forth in front of her eyes. The fairy blinked a couple times, then sat back on her heels. Her birth had occurred so long ago she had almost forgotten her purpose. Her day had come.
She nodded at the pixie's summons and it zipped away. Turning back, she smiled at the squirrel chattering curiously. She stroked its forearm and continued to bind its wound. "No worries," she comforted the furry animal, "It's just my time." She finished, and the squirrel tottered away. She glanced down at her healing hands. Veins shone through thin skin, wrinkles formed valleys and mountains. She sighed, stretching aching wings. Tattered though they were, she managed to flap them and take flight.
She flew in spurts, fluttering down to rest on branches along the way. At each stop, she pressed her hand to her chest, catching her breath, and looked to the western horizon. She had to reach the nesting place by the time the sun set. I will. I must. So she rose again and again, drawing on the numerous paths she had taken in her lifetime.
She'd begun as a Forest Fairy, mirroring their solitary ways and denial of easy comforts. She'd harnessed wind, sailing broad maple leaves in a blustery autumn. She'd fought prickled pines, weathering jabs and stings to discover hidden lairs. She'd defied fire's destruction and buried seeds in hopes of new life. Courage, she reminded herself, flapping when she wanted to give in.
A Water Fairy had been her next role. She'd braved the deprivation of air, diving to sunken depths. She'd survived cold torrents in a storm while struggling with a terrified carp. She'd made a lily pad her bed, staring at clouds, her fingers lazily trailing in a pond, pondering that such an element could be so vicious and so calm. Endurance, she chanted as she gasped for breath and pushed on.
The Rainbow Fairy had been a natural transition, water in another form. These sisters spent their time in dance and flight, barely touching ground. She'd needed time to adjust, but the rewards were worthwhile. Flying to dizzying heights and sliding down pure color―Ah, what joy! Look ahead. Beauty is to come, she mumbled, eyes on the west.
Regimented beauty ruled the Garden Fairy. Order supplanted chaos, each bulb and seed in its place, a life of tending and loving and waiting. So much waiting, until tender shoots appeared and eventually the days of blooming. Patience, she told herself as she rested again, hand to a heaving chest. Keep flying. She rose once more.
How many other fairies had she been? All of them. One by one until the years passed and she shriveled with age. Lastly she became a Beast Fairy and this for so many years she lost count. She'd had so much to learn, so many to know―delicate insects, stoic reptiles, jibbery birds, slippery fish, mammals aplenty. She deciphered words in their sounds, and just as the Beast Fairies before her, thought so like them she acted a beast herself. When the pixie had brought its summons, she'd had to remember she was indeed a fairy after all.
Finally, the nesting place. Her wings trembled, her body shook. She drifted to the ground and landed with an indelicate thud. Grasping shaking knees, she sat for some time. She knew what was to come, had witnessed the transformation before her own. Would it hurt? The Forest Fairies would have chided her for such fear! She pushed herself up and walked forward, stooped, though she tried to stand erect as possible.
A flurry of wings swirled around her, pixies enveloping her fragile form. She felt emboldened and her step lightened. The pixies dropped when she reached the midpoint of the clearing, pausing to bow before a low bier. The fairy fell to her knees. On a bed of leaves lay the still form of a fairy appearing as old as she, but her chest did not rise or fall. Her eyes were closed, her skin pale, her hair shining dimly white in the dying sun. She would have passed that morning, her second stage of life complete. The fairy lowered her gaze in reverence.
A tug on her hand brought her back to the moment, a silvery pixie nudging her on. She nodded and stood, turning away from the fate she would not meet for some time. The pixies came back to her, this time more gentle, slower of flight. They stayed to her back, the gusts from their wings propelling her forward. The sun disappeared when she reached the end of the clearing. She strained her eyes to find the tree. There, gnarled and twisted with age, a tree as old as fairies themselves. They said the first of their kind had been birthed here. She did not know if this was true, but she had been birthed here, even if the first of the fairies had not.
A lone pixie flew upwards and rested on a branch decorated with newly sprouting buds. The fairy took a breath, put her palm to her pounding chest, and flapped her shaking wings for the last time. She alighted on the branch, pixie wings thrumming furiously behind her. Tiny hands pushed and shoved, forcing her to kneel. Pain jolted through her shoulders and she stifled a cry. Her back burned. They had taken her wings. She wrapped her arms around her upper body. Courage! More pain, in her arms. Endurance! Growing pain in her legs. How long?! Patience!
When she thought she could take it no longer, hands prodded her until she tipped from the branch. She gasped, afraid to fall, but she did not. The pixies held her aloft beneath the branch and then the whirring began and threads of gossamer filled her vision. Little by little the hands released her as the gossamer swaddled her. Abruptly, all noise ceased. She could not see, but she felt her body swinging back and forth on the night breeze. Weariness overcame her and her frantic heart eased until it barely beat. Darkness took her.
Shadow ruled for some time. Her sleep was neither sweet nor sour; it simply was. And then she heard a song, so softly at first she only sensed it. Yet it grew, and her ears heard it calling to her. She shook her head and slowly opened her eyes. White gossamer, yes. The music rose in pitch. The blood in her veins coursed in tandem with it. Louder the song, louder, and now, she could not stand it. She had to stretch, had to push away. She writhed and wriggled, hands pinned to her sides. Desperate, she kicked and pushed. The gossamer gave way. She struggled all the more. A foot punched through first, then a hand. She tore at the threads and gasped in sweet fresh air. Pixie wings beat once more. No pain! she felt the urge to shout, but could not find voice.
They lifted her to lay on the branch and pulled on her wings. Please, no pain! But there was none. Instead, gentle caresses smoothed along her back. The song had continued, but leveled in volume. It echoed near her ear, and she turned her head to look. A pixie smiled slyly at her. She locked eyes with the delicate thing as the others comforted her.
After a time she felt a tug on her wings. Wings? She had thought them ripped and discarded by the pixies before the formation of her webbed chrysalis. Holding her breath, she flexed her shoulders and pushed. There was a collective gasp. She pulled up to sit, flexing her wings, once, twice, three times. A glance behind and she gasped herself. They had been remade and shimmered with gold. She scanned her body. Pink skin. She ran a hand over her arm. Soft, tender, new. She fingered a lock of her hair. Long and fair. She blinked. It was night again, but she could see.
The singing pixie stopped, smiled, bowed and gestured for her to rise. She did, marveled by a strength she had not felt in so long. She desired to fly, but the pixies lifted her with their hands, transporting her to ground themselves. They set her on her feet. More appeared, bearing forth a silky red dress. They held it for her as she stepped into it. Several others came forward, a crown of red flowers their gift. They settled the delicate roses on her golden hair. The singing pixie floated forward again, and the fairy held out her hand. The pixie perched on her palm for a moment, then pointed into the clearing. The fairy looked. Her thumping heart stuttered. It was time.
The pixie fluttered away behind her along with the rest. Their task was complete. The fairy strode purposefully into the clearing. Hundreds of faces met her gaze. They had come from forests and fields, lakes and rivers, gardens and orchards, dens and nests. She knew each and every one; if not every face, every life. She had lived them all and with this knowledge she would reign over them.
The Fairy Queen lifted up her hands and the knees of her subjects bowed. To her they submitted their lives. She smiled wistfully. How much she had enjoyed being one of them, but no more. She gestured and they rose to their feet. She put her fingers to her lips and opened her mouth, recalling her predecessor's words when she had watched from the audience. No hoarseness of age this time; her voice rang pure silver.
Garden and forest and field,
life of every hue;
To these I vow
and we who tend and mend.
Fairness of hand,
To love and protect
and arbitrate in kind.
My heart I give
and my soul I bind.
Light, shifting in tones of yellow and blue, seeped upwards from the earth, flowed and twisted, mingling with her breath. She inhaled deeply, welcoming the vibrancy of the world. She glowed ethereal, a crystal wisp, for a brief moment. Her heart burned. She smiled, raised her arms high, and curtsied.
Twittering cheers, high pitched and joyous, broadened her grin. Queen. For now until death claimed her.